Let's face it. America's foreign aid programs have not worked. They have not succeeded in channeling aid to meet the needs of the most needy. They have not been fine-tuned to foster self-help efforts in developing countries. They have not been able to avoid propping up widespread corruption in many countries receiving aid. Why not? Simply put, they have not been organized to do so.
Perhaps more importantly, however, US aid programs fail because they do not include opportunities for Americans to learn about the problems and the cultures of the people they are ostensibly helping.
The first principle in effective aid is public participation. Americans from all walks of life should have the chance to contribute directly to aid projects and to understand both the value of the projects and the people being supported. Moving toward greater citizen involvement would bring into sharper focus the humanitarian motivations behind aid and emphasize the role played by compassion and mutual respect and understanding in making foreign aid work.
While private contributions are to be encouraged, it is far better to coalesce private donations into community-to-community programs of resource and information exchanges. Through a community approach, both sides are reminded of the importance of community action in furthering general well-being. Americans would be able to view closely the impact of their assistance. Recipient communities would benefit from the direct aid and the knowledge that it comes from Americans who know and care about the specific projects.
In effect, I am suggesting a ''Sister Village'' program, involving the ''adoption'' by an American city or town of a village in a developing country. Using the term Sister Village is a reminder that, while the majority of the world's population are village-dwellers, there is still a common bond of humanity between developed town and undeveloped village.
This adoption should take place through the passage of an appropriate resolution by the American town or city council, thus making the relationship official and guaranteeing coverage in the local media. When residents learn that their town has ''adopted'' a Sister Village, they will undoubtedly become curious about the program and about the people in the adopted village. The idea derives, in part, from the Sister City program and blends in some aspects of a program run by the Peace Corps - called Peace Corps Partnership - in which US schools and developing country villages mutually benefit from an exchange of information and resources.
Under the Sister Village program, US communities would collect tax-deductible contributions from individuals and from civic-minded businesses and organizations. Funds collected would then be sent abroad to help finance the digging of wells, the construction of latrines, health centers, or schools, and the establishment of education programs in agriculture, sanitation, or adult literacy. The number of tasks crying out for support is awesome, but small contributions to small villages make a big difference in terms of human welfare and self-respect.
To make sure the contributions reach their intended destination, though, there needs to be someone on the scene to identify and channel aid to worthy projects and to serve as the eyes and ears in the village for the community back home. I propose, therefore, the imaginative use of Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) in this role.
Failure to utilize one of the greatest resources the US has in foreign aid - Peace Corps Volunteers - is both tragic and incomprehensible. Why should the American people miss the opportunity to ensure that worthy projects are begun and completed and that knowledge of the developing world is brought back to America? There are thousands of PCVs scattered in some 60 countries, but the two years they spend abroad resemble a form of banishment, when in fact US schools and communities could be linked with PCVs in productive networks of information and resource exchange.
Use of PCVs in the field should extend to research being conducted in US universities in a variety of fields, from tropical agriculture, to appropriate technology, to health care techniques at the village level. Bringing PCVs into ongoing educational programs, at all levels, in the US would serve to internationalize what has become a far too parochial and antiquated education system, given global realities in the 1980s. In fact, the Sister Village structure would accommodate a valuable student exchange program.
All legal and logistical arrangements for the student exchanges and the information and financial transfers being proposed should be made under the auspices of the Peace Corps and the State Department. Specific agreements with recipient countries will be needed. It should be kept in mind that there may be resistance to an aid program which bypasses the host country's framework of petty fraud and corruption. But that should not dissuade the US from insisting on the kind of aid program it wants to support.
Clearly the transition from traditional aid programs to the Sister Village concept must be a gradual one. Moreover, the new program is not designed to supplant all US aid programs. But in those countries where the Peace Corps has a large program and where the Sister Village program takes root, traditional aid programs could be scaled down or phased out, resulting in slackened pressure on the federal budget and reduction in the deficit over time. Complete recordkeeping on aid contributed to Sister Villages is a necessary feature of the program.
While budget-cutting is not the main selling point of this plan, it is fair to underline that, by definition, the new program could reduce federal expenditures by relying on private contributions. The Reagan administration surely has a mandate to move in this direction.